How Ukrainian scientists has developed best-in-class supercapacitors
“Our team” tab on Yunasko website is primarily representing such scientists as: R&D Director Dr. Yuriy Maletin, PhD, DSc and his Deputy Dr. Natalia Stryzhakova, PhD. And only after those two persons you may find Key Management Team headed by CEO Vadym Utkin, MBA.
This order is logical for the company, which is primarily competing in the field of research and development, and moreover it is achieving the success: Yunasko manufactures world’s best supercapacitors in terms of power density and hybrid capacitors. And it is the scientists, who are the center of the company.
Despite the fact that Yunasko indicates that its first address is London, chief specialists of the company work in Kyiv, within the premises of the Institute for Sorption and Problems of Endoecology of the NAS of Ukraine. Dr. Yuriy Maletin, PhD, DSc is holding here the position of the Head of Nanosized Carbon-Base Materials Department, and Yunasko, in which he is co-founder, is leasing the premises close to his office in the Institute. R&D Director is willingly showing who and in what way creates supercapacitors.
What are supercapacitors and hybrid capacitors
Supercapacitor is a device capable of accumulating and giving back electricity. Unlike the rechargeable batteries that “work” using the electrochemical reactions, they “work” using the electrode surface. Therefore, the first one have much higher energy capacity, but the second one are much more powerful and faster. Supercapacitors are charged very quickly and in fraction of a second may deliver heavy charge. These devices were first appeared in late 1970s, but their power has significantly increased since then.
As of today manufacturers use nanoporous coal in them, the surface of which reaches 1500-2000 square meters per one gram of material, in other words – almost half of the soccer field in one gram. Capacities of large supercapacitors are counted in thousands of farads, although the word “large” here refers to capacity rather than to weight – 3,000 farad in 0.5 kg capacitor.
Therefore, supercapacitors are used wherever powerful peak loads are needed. For example, in electric welding, where the current of up to several thousand amperes is required. Or in wind turbine generators to change the blade angle very quickly – otherwise strong gust of wind can break the screw.
Supercapacitors have other advantages over the rechargeable batteries. They can work in a wide temperature range: they do not afraid of heat, and at -40℃ (-40℉) they can start any diesel engine. Moreover, they are able to do this great many times – these devices ensure millions of charge-discharge cycles.
Thanks to such a high number of charge cycles, supercapacitors are the perfect choice if you need to constantly charge and discharge something. For instance, in hybrid cars in start-stop systems or in regenerative braking, when output kinetic energy is converted into electrical one and is stored for further use.
And what is more, these devices are safe: do not run hot and are noninflammable, which are the weak points of lithium-ion rechargeable batteries.
Hybrid capacitors are the devices that combine components and, accordingly, the properties of supercapacitors and rechargeable batteries. They have higher energy capacity and they may deliver high power, though little less than supercapacitors. On the other hand, it takes them 2-3 minutes to be charged, and they are comparable to rechargeable batteries as to the energy capacity.
From “buttons” to worldwide recognition
How Yunasko managed to leave behind the strongest and best-known global manufacturers of supercapacitors? It all started way back in late 1980s, when USSR Ministry of Electronics Industry ordered Dr. Yuriy Maletin to puzzle out the design and function of Japanese “button batteries” for computers. Scientist and his workfellows accepted this challenge. It turned out to be capacitors. And they were needed for the computer to shut down properly in case of, for instance, reduction in the supply-line voltage.
Team of Maletin participated in the creation of similar domestic device, and was dealing with electrolyte – constituent element for this device. This is how in USSR the Ryazan Metal Ceramics Products Plant manufactured the “button batteries” – supercapacitors for wristwatches with solar cells, and electrolyte was supplied from Kyiv city to Ryazan city. But after the dissolution of the USSR the manufacturing was closed down.
“We did not think about considerable earnings at the time – we just wanted to invent better devices”
But Dr. Yuriy Maletin and his workfellows did not stop their work on supercapacitors. They continued to study the properties of these devices and tried to improve them. Together scientists established the company and named it YNK-Bureau – by names of its founders: Yuriy, Natalia, Konstantin. “We did not think about considerable earnings at the time – we just wanted to invent better devices, like many scientists do in their fields,” – Yunasko’s chief scientist recalls.
But money was needed both for the research and for the existence. To do this YNK-Bureau cooperated with various Western projects, which at the time actively worked in Ukraine. The Science & Technology Center in Ukraine (STCU), sponsored by the United States, Canada and the European Union, was one of them. This organization gave scientists the opportunity to work and to make money in civil fields “in their home country” and thanks to this very organization great many scientists were not tempted to accept invitations to help to the military industrial sector of Iran, Iraq or another country.
Thus, in mid-1990s YNK-Bureau has designed entirely own supercapacitor. The chemist explained that you may only make some breakthrough in this field only if you deal with the entire system, and not with some its part. Company of scientists was improving the characteristics of devices. And this lasted until they created the best supercapacitor in terms of power density. That is, one that delivers the highest power considering its dimensions. To prove this Dr. Yuriy Maletin shows the research results, conducted in various independent laboratories, from American institutes to European automotive companies..
“No one can get such characteristics in supercapacitors like we did. We are the world beaters as to many indicators. Independent tests in many laboratories have proved this to be true,” – scientist said.
Good investor found way to us by himself
What is the secret of the invention of Ukrainians? It’s not some unique materials, Dr. Maletin said. “Thus far, we achieve better results using commercially available and relatively inexpensive materials,” – he said. It’s all about the electrochemical system design. “We conducted great many tests to understand what limits the capabilities of supercapacitors,” – scientist explained.
The team of chemists was simultaneously participating in various conferences, projects, and measurements. They used the every given half a chance to declare themselves and their products, get themselves noticed.
“One has to be an idiot to conclude agreement with RUSNANO”
Scientists tried to take on investors as well. Some entrepreneurs tried, but failed to commercialize the inventions of YNK-Bureau, others were rejected by Ukrainians themselves. “It was RUSNANO,” – Dr. Yuriy Maletin said. – “In 2009 we tried to create joint project with them. Do to this we successfully passed all the project preparation stages, all the inspections, scientific and technical council of investment company, left the Russian competitors behind… But RUSNANO offered such cooperation conditions that one has to be an idiot to conclude agreement with them – pursuant to agreement we could donate everything to Moscow within 6-12 months and be left with nothing.”
Nevertheless, investors were interested in the developments of chemists. In the same year, managers at Dekarta Capital investment fund turned to Dr. Yuriy Maletin. They searched for the interesting business to invest their money, and asked to tell more about the developments of supercapacitors. Next year parties established the joint stock company.
It received the name Yunasko and the London residence registration. “There are more transparent laws there: both economic and copyright protection. But what we actually have there is legal address and secretarial office. Personally I have never been there,” – co-founder of the company admitted.
Yunasko has two subsidiaries: one in Ukraine, second in Latvia. “We tried to launch manufacturing in technological park close to Riga, where premises were already prepared. But we needed funds to put the equipment there,” – Dr. Yuriy Maletin said. According to him, Latvia is good for the manufacturing since it is the European Union, which means it is easier and faster to enter its markets, gain the confidence of investors and partners. At the same time it is not so expensive as Germany or France.
In 2011 founders of Yunasko company invited Vadym Utkin, graduate of Igor Sikorsky Kyiv Polytechnic Institute with the specialization in “optoelectronic laser devices”, to be its CEO. He worked on manufacturing automation for a long time, and soon got MBA degree in Kyiv-Mohyla Business School. Yunasko’s founders thought that he will succeed in commercialization of scientists’ developments. And domestic supercapacitors entered new development stage.
“American customer, for which we make the most powerful supercapacitors brings us most of the earnings”
Yunasko built pilot manufacturing facility using the funds received from Dekarta Capital. Kyiv city is the location of the laboratory, where scientists study and create new systems, but real devices are assembled by the company in Khmelnytskyi city. This is where some time ago Research & Manufacturing Association “Cation” was located. In Soviet times it manufactured various capacitors and started to deal with supercapacitors. And experts who are good in these devices stayed there. Dr. Maletin knew them since late 1980s. It were they, who helped to organize pilot manufacturing facility, namely manual assembly – this is where 30 of 50 Yunasko employees work.
Every year dozens and hundreds devices having various capacities, from 200 to 3500 farads, are sent to everyplace on the world from here..
Company tried to enter more large-scale manufacturing – it licensed and almost built manufacturing line in China. There was the need there for hybrid buses, and local municipalities willingly purchased them, since the state provided good subsidies. But one day the Communist Party of China decided to support manufacturers of electric buses, and demand for supercapacitors dropped through the floor. Therefore, thus far, Yunasko has frozen its Chinese manufacturing.
“But we got customers in Europe and the USA. American customer, for which we make the most powerful supercapacitors brings us most of the earnings,” – CEO Vadym Utkin, said.
Focus on the expansion
As of today Yunasko is in the breakeven point, but further success depends on how it can scale up manufacturing, company’s CEO said. “Our pilot manufacturing facility in Khmelnytskyi city allows us to create small experimental batches, but the cost of such manufacturing is high. We shall increase the manufacturing output, and to do this automated line is needed. That is, we shall pour cash, investor is needed,” – Vadym Utkin explained. “Sad but true, we have birth trauma: we are not in the European Union. Investors are afraid to invest in Ukraine – there is a high risk of losing money here due to reprivatization or something else”, – R&D Director added.
However, Yunasko does not let the grass grow under its feet. Company seeks partners, participates at international conferences. “We started to cooperate with our defense industry officials, joined the Association of Ukrainian Defense Manufacturers,” – Dr. Yuriy Maletin said. Though he does not specify what exactly Yunasko is doing here.
Worldwide market of supercapacitor ranges from $200 mln to $500 mln, while the market of rechargeable batteries is close to $100 bln.
Company development depends on how the supercapacitor market will develop, but it is going up slowly. When China canceled subsidies for hybrid buses, it even shrank. Various experts say that worldwide market of supercapacitor ranges from $200 mln to $500 mln, while the market of rechargeable batteries is close to $100 bln.
Nevertheless, the market of supercapacitor still keeps developing – inventors find new application fields for them. For instance, in aircraft industry – for emergency door opening systems. After all, supercapacitors are safe and eternal: you install them, you forget about them until you needed them. Japanese use supercapacitors in load lifting cranes – during recuperation of energy. When the crane lifts heavy load, it shall give high power. But when it lowers the cargo, it recharges the supercapacitor. Americans weaponize their army with railguns, which also need devices able to produce large power impulses. Therefore Yunasko feels optimistic about the future. There is all the more reason for this as it has already gained the name of innovative company.
R&D Director Dr. Yuriy Maletin:
Interaction between scientists and management of science-driven companies is always mutual education. After all, manager may not always understand the physical essence of the product. On the other hand, inventors may invent ultra-original device, but without any idea who will want to purchase it.
Do not let the grass grow under your feet while waiting for the investors.
We have always searched for the projects, where our product may be developed. We found them and participated in them. And this is how we created the best of what we could create.
We have always tried to make a claim about ourselves: we participated in independent testing, gave talks at conferences. Thanks to this, they knew about us. And thanks to this investors came to us. As of today we participate in three or four international conferences a year – where our potential partners can be.
If your product is better in something, you shall prove this to be true. It’s all the better if independent experts do this.
If you have wonderful idea, and intelligent investor is ready to invest in it, then you shall not be greedy while allocating the interests. What is important is value of every single share of the company, rather than the total number of shares in the company. And besides, more or less well intelligent investor is interested for the scientists and inventors to have good motivation to work with him.
CEO Vadym Utkin
Technology company shall have both engineer and cheeky bastard – the one, who loves and knows how to sell. Yunasko has such a cheeky bastard – it’s me.
Ukraine has many good scientists, but there is a big problem with business development. Where to look for people who can make money on inventions? Pretty sure not among scientists and inventors – they use to be strongly attached to their inventions and ideas. On the one hand, this is a problem. On the other hand, it should be so, the scientist should burn with enthusiasm about his deliverable.
Such people are just starting to enter startup movement of our country. They are way better able to sell innovations.